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Welcome to Near Future. In this weekly feature, The Current spotlights innovations powering the next wave of commerce.
Shopping for shoes on Amazon allows users to scroll through a host of brands, colors and styles. A new tool is adding the capability to use a phone to check out how the shoes look on their feet.
The ecommerce company’s fashion division on Thursday launched Virtual Try-On for Shoes, a new tool that can be accessed in the US and Canada using the Amazon shopping app in iOS (The company said Android will follow soon). After a period in limited release, Amazon is rolling out the feature with thousands of sneaker styles from brands including New Balance, adidas, Reebok, Puma, Superga, Lacoste, Asics and Saucony.
With the introduction of the feature, Amazon is tapping into augmented reality (AR) to mimic an in-store try-on experience. Augmented reality allows users look at a real-world image through a mobile camera, and view an overlay of a digital image within the phone display.
Here’s how Amazon’s Virtual Try-On for Shoes works:
- When they select a shoe, shoppers can tap “Virtual Try-On,” below a product image.
- Then, they point their mobile device camera down, and the app presents a rendering of the shoes on their feet. Shoppers can move their feet to see how the shoes look from any angle.
- Within the experience, shoppers can change colors of the shoes they see by scrolling through a carousel of options.
- Shoppers can also take a photo of the shoes and share it with friends through social media.
- The tool does not provide sizing. Amazon said fit information available on the product detail page can assist in this area.
After being popularized by Pokemon Go, brands and retailers have been experimenting with AR in recent years. As we wrote in Augmented reality is transforming the try-on:
It could usher in a new phase of try-before-you-buy. Makeup counters, dressing rooms, shoe try-ons and even mirrors are all key tools used by physical stores that allow shoppers to get a sense of a product before purchase. Augmented reality can help to bring a key part of the in-person shopping experience to the digital realm: "How can I touch it, feel it and get a better sense of this product?" said Will Gee, CEO of Baltimore-based XR development studio Balti Virtual.
Tech enhancements have helped this area to evolve. In 2017, upgrades that came with the iPhone X and Apple’s release of the ARKit marked a major step forward. This opened the way for pioneering apps from Ikea, Wayfair, Warby Parker and Home Depot.
Amazon, too, has introduced AR shopping in the past. It previously rolled out a tool that allowed shoppers to visualize home decor in a room. With L'Oreal, it introduced cosmetics try-on in 2019. In April, Amazon incorporated virtual try-on into a custom clothing service called Made for You that launched in experimental mode.
The new fashion-focused feature comes at a time when AR is increasingly being applied to apparel and beauty, showing how a product will look on a person rather than in a space. Walmart rolled out its own virtual try-on tool for women's fashion after last year's acquisition of Zeekit, though this allows users to choose a model that best represents them rather than see a product on themselves.
Social media platforms are also integrating augmented reality as they look to bring ecommerce capabilities into their apps. After proving out the technology and conversion potential of its AR tools through brand partnerships that included shoe try-on and cosmetics, Snap is in the midst of introducing upgrades that include a central "dressing room" hub within Snapchat for users to view themselves wearing products, and various tools that allow brands and retailers to easily add items and create AR experiences within the app.
AR tools hold promise in helping to drive purchase decisions. According to a study by AR no-code design platform Camera IQ, 59% of consumers said they would be more likely to purchase a product they’ve seen visualized through AR.
Amazon's Virtual Try-on for Shoes. (Gif via Amazon)
Like others before it, Amazon is initially releasing the technology in a targeted way. It is focusing in the single product area of shoes. It's also focused on look, as opposed to combining style and fit like Warby Parker's AR try-on tool for glasses. However, within the experience, the likeness of the shoes appears to fit to a user's feet when rendered within the app.
That said, the ability to view the shoes from multiple angles goes a long way toward providing a more true-to-life experience, and the integration within Amazon's existing in-app shopping experience makes it accessible as part of general browsing.
Plus, the scale of Amazon can still be felt even in what feels like a test. Even as it provides a tool only for sneakers, the platform is providing access to a host of brands, and a wide range of styles and colors.
Try-on is familiar from the in-store experience, but AR combined with Amazon’s product catalog brings the potential for shoppers to try out a wide variety of options, and do so without having to go to a store and pull boxes off the shelves. It’s a representation of how ecommerce can extend the choice available.
“Amazon Fashion’s goal is to create innovative experiences that make shopping for fashion online easier and more delightful for customers,” said Muge Erdirik Dogan, president of Amazon Fashion, in a statement. “We’re excited to introduce Virtual Try-On for Shoes, so customers can try on thousands of styles from brands they know and love at their convenience, wherever they are. We look forward to listening and learning from customer feedback as we continue to enhance the experience and expand to more brands and styles.”
Even as it remains in learning mode, Amazon’s increasing adoption of the technology will likely be felt across ecommerce. An eyewear executive recently told us that AR is becoming "table stakes" for ecommerce shopping experiences, and Amazon including the capability as part of the largest and most widely-used online shopping platform could go a long way toward making that so.
Trending in Shopper Experience
Labor disputes on the West Coast could cause further disruption heading into peak season.
When the first half of 2023 is complete, imports are expected to dip 22% below last year.
That’s according to new data from the Global Port Tracker, which is compiled monthly by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
The decline has been building over the entire year, as imports dipped in the winter. With the spring, volume started to rebound. In April, the major ports handled 1.78 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units. That was an increase of 9.6% from March. Still it was a decline of 21.3% year over year – reflecting the record cargo hauled in over the spike in consumer demand of 2021 and the inventory glut 2022.
In 2023, consumer spending is remaining resilient with in a strong job market, despite the collision of inflation and interest rates. The economy remains different from pre-pandemic days, but shipping volumes are beginning to once again resemble the time before COVID-19.
“Economists and shipping lines increasingly wonder why the decline in container import demand is so much at odds with continuous growth in consumer demand,” said Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett, in a statement. “Import container shipments have returned the pre-pandemic levels seen in 2019 and appear likely to stay there for a while.”
Retailers and logistics professionals alike are looking to the second half of the year for a potential upswing. Peak shipping season occurs in the summer, which is in preparation for peak shopping season over the holidays.
Yet disruption could occur on the West Coast if labor issues can’t be settled. This week, ports from Los Angeles to Seattle reported closures and slowdowns as ongoing union disputes boil over, CNBC reported. NRF called on the Biden administration to intervene.
“Cargo volume is lower than last year but retailers are entering the busiest shipping season of the year bringing in holiday merchandise. The last thing retailers and other shippers need is ongoing disruption at the ports,” aid NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “If labor and management can’t reach agreement and operate smoothly and efficiently, retailers will have no choice but to continue to take their cargo to East Coast and Gulf Coast gateways. We continue to urge the administration to step in and help the parties reach an agreement and end the disruptions so operations can return to normal. We’ve had enough unavoidable supply chain issues the past two years. This is not the time for one that can be avoided.”